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Voter ID bill amended, advances in Montana House
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Voter ID bill amended, advances in Montana House

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Following a passionate debate, the Montana House on Wednesday endorsed new voter identification restrictions after amending legislation to require college students to provide a second form of identification in addition to their school ID.

A week after the House State Administration Committee voted unanimously to keep Montana college IDs on the state’s the list of “primary” identification for registering and voting, House Speaker Wylie Galt, R-Martinsdale, introduced an amendment reversing the change to Senate Bill 169. The bill is part of a package of legislation being pushed by Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen.

As written, the bill would require an official document showing the voter’s name and current address, if they can’t provide a primary ID. Primary ID options include a Montana driver’s license or ID card, tribal photo ID, military ID, concealed carry permit, a driver’s license number or the last four digits of a Social Security number.

“If you’re a college student in Montana and you don’t have a registration or a bank statement or a W-2, it makes me kind of wonder why you’re voting in this election anyway,” Galt said during the debate on his amendment. “So this just clears it up that they have a little stake in the game.”

Rep. Geraldine Custer, a Forsyth Republican and former clerk and recorder in Rosebud County, had brought the amendment last week to add college IDs, along with other changes to the bill. Echoing her comments then, she argued during Wednesday’s floor debate the state was opening itself up to a lawsuit by changing the bill back to its previous language.

“Putting this wording back in, requiring the college students to have two forms of ID, is discriminatory and it’s going to go right to court,” Custer said. “I think this flies in the face of the conservative Republican principles, that we’re going to spend hard-earned Montanans’ tax dollars to line the pockets of attorneys when we don’t need to do this.”

No other Republicans spoke against Galt’s proposed change, but a handful joined Democrats in voting against it. The amendment passed 55-45.

The bill is arguably the most significant piece of election legislation progressing through the Legislature, along with another Secretary of State-backed measure to end same-day voter registration. Republicans have said it would reinforce “election integrity” in Montana, while acknowledging there are no known, documented cases of voter fraud in the state’s recent history.

But they’ve argued the new restrictions on what type of ID is permissible at the polls would discourage the possibility of fraud in the future.

“ID is very important for many situations, for many things we purchase and will continue to purchase,” said Rep. Wendy McKamey, an Ulm Republican who had previously supported easing restrictions on college ID as the chair of the House State Administration Committee. “But our core values and our core ability to be able to exercise our franchise should be protected to the utmost. And consequently identification is essential in that protection.”

Arguing against the measure, Democrats voiced many of the same concerns brought by groups that opposed the bill, including those representing Native Americans, people with disabilities, students and the elderly. They said the added restrictions will also disproportionately create barriers to vote for lower-income residents.

“Some people don’t have the money to be able to afford a driver’s license or a Costco card,” Rep. Jessica Karjala, D-Billings, said, comparing the measure to a poll tax. “Many people don’t pay utilities in their own name their utilities could be included in their rent, or their utility bill could be listed under their spouse’s or their roommate’s name.”

Custer was the only Republican to vote against SB 169, which otherwise passed on a party-line vote, 66-34. It needs a final vote in the House, and will then head back to the Senate, which will vote on whether to accept the amendments.

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